NEW YORK—NBA has again been questioned over the relationship with China after a Twitter user pointed out on Sunday, July 12 that the official NBA online store didn’t allow customers to customize NBA jersey with the message “Free Hong Kong.”
“You can’t order a jersey with FreeHongKong on the back from the NBA store. Choose any team and try to enter “FreeHongKong” as the name. When you try to add it to your cart, you’ll get an error that “We are unable to customize this item with the text you have entered. Please try a different entry.” But if you enter in “FreeHongKonq” or some other misspelling, no problem,” said a Reddit user.
An audio of the NBA store telling the customer he can’t buy a “FreeHongKong” jersey but is allowed to buy a “KillCops” jersey has gone viral on social media. The staff of the NBA store later told that customer during the call that they couldn’t sell him any jersey due to high call volume and system error.
After several online users also proved that they could not buy jerseys with the message “FreeHongKong,” a representative of Fanatics, which sells NBA products, said “the phrase was inadvertently prohibited on our league online store sites and has now been fixed. Fans who wish to customize it, so long as the text meets the 12-character limit, are able to do so.”
The controversy came after Sen. Josh Hawley sent a PR email to NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Friday, July 10, and later received the response from Adrian Wojnarowski, a reporter in ESPN, with only curse words as a reply. In the letter to Silver, Hawley criticized NBA allowed players to wear a jersey with social and political messages which link to anti-police protests on it but didn’t mention the approval of any message that shows support to people in Hong Kong.
“I was disrespectful, and I made a regrettable mistake,” said Wojnarowski after Hawley shared a screenshot of his response on Twitter. “I’m sorry for the way I handled myself and I am reaching out immediately to Senator Hawley to apologize directly. I also need to apologize to my ESPN colleagues because I know my actions were unacceptable and should not reflect on any of them.”
ESPN PR also released a statement, saying “this is completely unacceptable behavior and we do not condone it. It is inexcusable for anyone working for ESPN to respond in the way Adrian did to Senator Hawley. We are addressing it directly with Adrian and specifics of those conversations will remain internal.”
Wojnarowski was suspended by ESPN. Hawley said ESPN should not suspend a reporter, instead, they should ask NBA tough questions about the pro-China and anti-America bias.